Truckers at port get $5,000 to upgrade rides

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A program similar to Cash for Clunkers was announced by the South Carolina State Ports Authority on Thursday in an effort to get some of the oldest, most polluting diesel trucks serving the Port of Charleston off the road.

Under the program, those driving trucks built before 1994 can get $5,000 if they junk their old ride and buy a 2004 or newer model. To qualify, drivers have to be frequent users of the port, averaging one visit a week during the previous year.

Authority spokesman Byron Miller said about 10 percent of the port's frequent users - about 260 trucks - qualify for the incentive.

In 2009, the federal Cash for Clunkers program encouraged people to trade in vehicles with poor gas mileage and use federal rebates to buy new, fuel-efficient ones. While newer trucks serving the port will be more efficient, the program is really focused on reducing air pollution.

The project is being funded by both the authority and through an Environmental Protection Agency grant administered through the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Each is paying half of the incentive with the authority also paying the administrative costs of the program.

Officials hope to get 100 trucks replaced during the first phase of the voluntary program.

Without the incentive, older trucks would continue to move in and out of the port, said DHEC's Robert Brown, who added it's not unusual for trucks to be on the road a long time.

"If you take care of them, they can go 20 or 30 years and still be making money for the owner," he said.

Like the Cash for Clunkers program, the engines of the old trucks will be disabled.

Trucker Lewis Brown stopped by Thursday to take advantage of the program.

Brown, from Summerville, has been driving 24 years and hoped to get about $18,000 from scrapping his 1992 Kenworth and the incentive. He said that will be a big help in buying a used truck that will likely cost $40,000 to $50,000.

"My truck is older and it takes longer to get parts and more to keep up," he said. "I want to get a newer one and I don't want to go more than two or three years old."

He estimated his old truck has about 2 million miles and the engine, which has been replaced, has about 400,000 miles.

Coleman Thompson, the president of the Charleston Motor Carriers Association, said the incentive will help get older trucks off the road.

"If you can get someone to give you $5,000 for a truck whose bluebook value is a couple of thousand, that's great," he said. "More is always better, but it's a good step."

The new program is part of continuing efforts by the Ports Authority to improve air quality.

Last year, the agency, working with the federal government and private companies, completed a $3.5 million effort to install cleaner engines on diesel container-lifting equipment, two tugs, a dredge and 40 trucks.

That project should eliminate 2,000 tons of air emissions during the life of the equipment.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.